Miss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, especially when the power dynamic between hero and heroine is unequal. She’s looking at you boss-and-secretary trope and you, nurse-and-doctor. It’s “ick.” Except there’s Betty Neels and her doctor/nurse hero and heroine and Miss Bates loves those to pieces. The only hard-and-fast rule in romance is never say never. Surgeon In A Tux did not bode well from the get-go and not only because it’s a boss-and-employee set-up: as Head Nurse Lizzie Birch says of her soon-to-be employer and the novel’s hero: “Leo Hunter was a heartbreaker, surgeon to the stars, irredeemable playboy and, as of Monday, he would also be her boss.” Here we go, thought Miss Bates. Everything in Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux started out a total turn-off for Miss Bates: stilted writing, lack of development in the relationship between heroine and hero, neither of whom were terribly likeable and appeared to be cut from some 1950s code of ingenue and man-of-the-world, an episodic at best, disjointed at worst, plot, even the smarmy cover was unappealing … well, lo and behold, did Miss Bates make a complete turn-around on this one. It took For Evah, but this is the beauty of the category, folks, you’ll stick with it because you can see light at tunnel’s end; in this case, it was worth it. The last 30% or so was FANTABULOUS. Is it worth reading for the concluding 30%? Miss Bates says, in this case, it is.
“He looked at Leo – so arrogant, so assured, so, despite his insistence otherwise, messed up.” This is how Ethan, hero Leo Hunter’s brother and fellow doctor, sees him … and he’s right. Leo Hunter, London plastic surgeon to celebrities and royalty, is all of those things and more. He’s a commitment-phobe, a man who smooths his way through life avoiding emotional entanglements, focusing on rebuilding the family name (tainted by his father and trampled by his high-living, distant mother). For the first half of this romance novel, this is what we see and know of Leo. If his brother’s opinion is such and his brother purportedly loves him, the reader can’t say much more on his behalf. Leo is charming and distant. Loose, easy, free, a womanizer, his career perpetuates the need for women to stay young, svelte, and forever in pursuit of a public image of physical perfection. Leo’s charm was emphasized, but Miss Bates didn’t read any evidence of it, at least initially.
“He’d had no idea what to expect from the new head nurse, but it certainly hadn’t been this ball of femininity.” Aside from the ludicrous image of a “ball of femininity,” this is Leo Hunter’s first impression of Lizzie Birch, who’s brought into the exclusive Hunter plastic surgery clinic at the recommendation of his troubled baby brother, Ethan. Lizzie reads like a heroine, at least initially, out of a Betty Neels novel. She’s pretty, efficient, and has not seen much of the world; she’s careful with her money, but enjoys smart clothes and good chocolate when she can afford them. She’s an only child, overprotected and coddled by her elderly parents, “Lizzie had been wrapped in love by her parents. Supported. Stifled.” Now they’re both in a home, her mother ill with Alzheimer’s; Lizzie carries the burden of their care. She’s not had much experience with men and not much of a chance to remedy that in light of her parents’ present circumstances and the obligation and love she honours. She’s 32 and shelf-hood beckons, until she meets Dr. Suave and Good-Looking, evidence her first impression of him, “Did he have to be so good-looking? So overpowering, so completely male?” So, the Ingenue and the Doctor-Rake … except they don’t interact very much in the first half of the novel and too much time is given to the patients of the clinic, how important it is to look good, feel good, and do expensive work as an essential stop on the road to your perfect, celebrity life. The clinic also helps women who’ve been abused and disfigured: that redeems the ethics all right. But the narrative is still left flat.
” … he wanted more than that from Lizzie. He actually wanted the conversations, the meals and the moments, getting to know each other. Yet he did not.” The narrative picks up when Leo asks Lizzie to accompany him to a charity ball. The “ball” is to attend a ball! He’s between women and bringing his smart, professional head nurse is a good PR move. It’s strictly business … but it’s not. Work throws them together FINALLY and their interactions, though we really really wait for them, make for some fun reading; witness this exchange as Leo and Lizzie navigate their growing attraction, ” ‘What’s stopping us, Lizzie?’ ‘Your track record,’ she admitted. ‘My job.’ … He had to make things clear. He had to do the ‘I’m a bastard nothing will ever come of it’ talk, right here right now, but she halted him. ‘Leo, I’m thirty-two, I don’t need to hear the warnings.’ ” Whoa, does Lizzie ever come into her own from this point on. The problem, of course, is that it IS an abrupt change of character, for neither rhyme, nor reason. But what the heck: the stultifying narrative needed something, even if it doesn’t make all that much sense.
“It was the serious bonking time of a new romance, Lizzie told herself. That time when you just can’t bear to be apart. And they used every minute. It was dizzying, enlightening, freeing, and between steamy encounters as they waited for rancour to hit and for both of them to admit to it all being a terrible mistake, sometimes they actually managed to talk.” Now isn’t that a girl who knows her own mind? Who sees the flaws in a relationship clearly and well? Who is without illusions about her playboy boyfriend? As Lizzie goes, so does Leo. His Mr Suave is not as suave as he first appears: he likes Lizzie and he doesn’t quite know what to do with that. Though the love-making is pretty explosive, it’s also flawed. He has to readjust: how refreshing. He misses Lizzie when she visits her parents in Brighton and does so without turning into He-Man possessive: no, he turns into an ass on several occasions, but Lizzie takes him to task. The writing too shifts from stilted to quirky. Suddenly, we have a romance novel that works. Miss Bate isn’t quite sure what’s put her on this path of too little, too late lately, but the late in this case is darn good.
Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux offers, for the most part, “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park; however, in light of its last quarter or so, it upgrades to “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux is published by Harlequin Books (Medical Romance line) and has been available since April 1st; you may find it at the usual vendors in the usual formats.
Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, made available via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.
While Miss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, she’s a sucker for the medical romance, though she’d like to see the doctor-heroine and nurse-hero. Alas, that romance has yet to be written, as far as she knows. So, hit her with them: what medical romances have you read and loved? Obviously there be many of those in the Betty Neels canon, but feel free to mention as many as you’d like! (And if they include a baby-filled epilogue, even better 😉 )